Some Great Wine from British Columbia

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to taste many excellent wines from British Columbia.  Unfortunately, here in Ontario, we see very little wine on the shelves of the LCBO that hails from BC.  It seems odd and a little disappointing to me that Ontarians are more familiar with the huge variety of wine imported from foreign countries than we are with the wine produced in one of our own provinces.  British Columbia might as well be a foreign country.

The climate for grape growing in BC is very different from what we experience in Ontario.  Tony Aspler, in his Wine Atlas of Canada, compares BC’s climate to that of the Northern Rhone, while Ontario is more like Burgundy.  The Northern Rhone has no problem ripening grapes, but the cooler weather in Burgundy can pose difficulties for wine making.

Aspler also writes, “Certainly the reds from the Southern Okanagan have more alcohol and more fruit extract than their Ontario counterparts.  They are more Washington and California in style than they are European.”  Ontario wines also tend to have higher acid levels.

David Lawrason, founder of the Canadian Wine Awards, says that BC has more consistency in the ripeness levels of the grapes from year to year because of the hot summers.  The tannins are also consistently ripe; not hard, green, and austere.

Most of the vineyards in BC are located in the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys.  The two valleys are right next to each other and share a similar climate.  Daytime temperatures easily reach 30°C and occasionally shoot up to 40°C.  Summers tend to be cloudless so the heat of the day is not retained at night creating a large diurnal range in temperatures. The cool nights help retain the grapes’ acidity and flavours.  The southern Okanagan is a true desert.  There is little disease and the long days with intense sunlight promote vine growth and grape ripening.  There can be a risk of late spring and early autumn frost.

Here are some tasting notes for a few of my favourites from the tasting.

Thornhaven Estates Gewurztraminer 2008 VQA Okanagan Valley:  The wine is a bright lemon yellow colour.  It has pronounced aromas of sweet lychee, rose petals, and tropical fruit with a good dose of spice.  On the palate it is off-dry with luscious lychee fruit, melon, and ripe pineapple.  There is spice and rose petals on the very long, lingering finish.  A beautiful wine!

Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Estate 2007 Meritage Sunrock Vineyard VQA Okanagan Valley:  This wine has youthful aromas of smoky chocolate, bell peppers, and dark fruit.  It is full-bodied with high tannins that need a bit of time to mellow.  The flavours are of blackberry and plum with coffee grounds and dark chocolate with a medium plus length.  A couple of years in the cellar should benefit this wine nicely.

Laughing Stock Vineyards Portfolio 2007 VQA Okanagan Valley: blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and a tiny bit of Petit Verdot.  The wine has an intense nose of dark fruit, pencil shavings, smoky tobacco and spice.  On the palate there are flavours of dark berries and plums with red bell peppers and a toasty finish.  It has a good structure and balance and is a candidate for the cellar.

N’k Mip Cellars Merlot 2007 VQA Okanagan Valley: Youthful aromas of plum, blackberry, spicy chocolate, and underbrush.  It is full-bodied on the palate with a very smooth texture and velvetty tannins.  There are lots of dark fruit flavours, such as black cherry, blackberry, and plum with a hint of underbrush and chocolate.  This wine is drinking well now, but it could benefit from at least 5 years aging in the cellar.

Burrowing Owl Pinot Noir 2008 VQA Okanagan Valley:  Not only does the Okanagan handle the Bordeaux varieties very well, but it also does a fine job with Burgundian varieties.  This wine has aromas of cherry and red fruit as well as darker fruit, such as plum and blueberry.  There is a touch of earthiness reminiscent of damp soil and a nice floral perfume.  On the palate there is more red fruit with sweet ripe cherries, strawberries, and other red berries.  The medium tannins are very smooth and silky and there is a nice long finish.  It’s ready to drink now but will evolve over the next few years.

Summerhill Pyramid Winery Syrah 2006 VQA Okanagan Valley:  The youthful nose has aromas of sweet ripe dark fruit and chocolate covered cherries.  There is a spiciness that is reminiscent of mace.  The oak is evident but well-integrated.  On the palate it is very fruit forward with cherries, plums, and blackberries with some spice and a bit of cracked pepper.  A very pleasant wine.

2 responses

  1. Thank you for this inciteful post about BC wine and international wine. I’m in the midst of drafting a report for my english class and I’m writing a section comparing Vancouver Island wine to that of France. I was focused on comparing our wine here on the island to those of Bourgogne, but Vancouver Island is at a much closer parallel to the Champagne region. Any thoughts on this topic would be much appreciate.


  2. Hi Katrinna,

    Thanks for your comment and your question. You have a very interesting topic for your report! You could compare the wines of Vancouver Island to either those of Burgundy or Champagne. Although Vancouver Island and Champagne are at the same parallel, the problem with comparing Vancouver Island’s wines to the wines of Champagne is that they are almost all sparkling wines.

    The climate of Vancouver Island is hugely influenced by the Pacific Ocean. The water warms the air in the winter and cools it in the summer. An average summer is sunny and warm with temperatures averaging 24 degrees Celsius, and the winters are temperate with temperatures hovering around freezing. Burgundy has temperatures that are similar. Both are considered cool-climate regions.

    Vancouver Island successfully grows many less well-known grapes, such as Ortega and Marechal Foch, but it is also quite successful with the famous Burgundy varieties – Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. (Incidentally, these are also 2 of the 3 grapes grown for the making of Champagne.) Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer also do well on the island.

    Sometimes the vines on Vancouver Island are covered with plastic tents in the spring to promote early growth and an earlier harvest. The rains begin in late September which can shorten the growing season. The grapes need to be harvested before this.

    The milder temperatures gives grapes with a softer acid. Wine writer Tony Aspler says the wines of Vancouver Island and the Wine Islands have a “softer flavour profile that frames subtle but rich fruit character with clean, discrete acid.” (The Wine Atlas of Canada)

    Burgundy has a long history of grape growing and winemaking. Centuries of experimentation and record keeping have helped them establish the best vineyards planted with grapes best suited to that area. The wines of Burgundy can be some of the most beautiful and complex wines in the world. Vancouver Island is a young wine region, and while it may be producing some very good and successful wines, there is still much to learn, as in any new wine region. The potential of the region is there, and with passionate and dedicated people who knows what the area will achieve in the future.

    I hope this helps. Let me know if you have more questions.

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